Book Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Book Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Series: Winner's Trilogy #2
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on March 3, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 402
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement... if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

Book Review:

I wasn’t a huge fan of THE WINNER’S CURSE last year, but I decided to give the second book in the trilogy, THE WINNER’S CRIME, a try because I was curious about the world. One of my big complaints about book one was the lack of worldbuilding, but there was enough to hook me and leave me wanting more.

Unfortunately, I shouldn’t have bothered with THE WINNER’S CRIME. Because I wasn’t a fan of Kestrel and Arin’s relationship in the first book, I really couldn’t stand all the time they spent angsting about each other in this one. THE WINNER’S CRIME is incredibly slow paced, with Kestrel and Arin going back and forth on liking each other, on reasons why they can and can’t trust each other, on why they can and can’t be together. I found Arin to be somewhat of a bully in this book, trying to force Kestrel to admit she likes him when he knows both of their lives are in danger anytime they meet, even in secret.

THE WINNER’S CRIME also has a huge pet peeve of mine. Kestrel is supposed to be incredibly intelligent, but now that she’s in love with Arin, she acts like an idiot. She’s under the Valorian emperor’s nose, and he repeatedly shows and tells her that even thinking about Arin isn’t a good idea if she wants to stay alive. But Kestrel thinks she’s above every warning, and stupidly spies for Herran. For what reason? I have no freaking clue, other than maybe she enjoys putting her life in danger?

THE WINNER’S CRIME suffers from middle book syndrome: not very much happens. Seriously, I think you could skip this book and move right onto the third book if it was available.

Socialize with the author:

Marie Rutkoski:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Book Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam SilveraMore Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Published by Soho Teen on June 2, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, Romance, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto -- miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Adam Silvera's extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

Book Review:

At first, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT seems like a contemporary novel. Yes, it examines some pretty awesome and important things, such as being a possibly gay boy in the Bronx. Aaron starts off the book with a great girlfriend who’s understanding; she held him when he cried after his father committed suicide. But when he meets Thomas, a boy unlike any he’s met before, Aaron starts to wonder — is he gay? Does he love Thomas?

Aaron’s happier than he’s ever been before, but his old friends aren’t. They don’t like that he might be gay. And that’s when the book transforms, shifting from contemporary to speculative fiction with the Leteo Institute. In a near future world, the Leteo Institute has invented a way to help people forget memories they don’t want anymore. Aaron wants to forget that he’s gay.

About 60% through MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, there’s a real bam! moment. It’s when little things scattered throughout the previous pages suddenly made a lot more sense. It’s when I felt even more for Adam and his family. It’s when I realized the author was a genius. The last 40% or so of the book is heartbreaking, but in the best possible way.

Aaron has such a great voice. He felt incredibly real to me, as did his friends, family, and the Bronx. I enjoyed every uplifting and grueling second of him questioning himself, his sexuality, and loss. MORE HAPPY THAN NOT is a book that really made me think and feel, and I bet you’ll go “Woaaaah” at the end, just like I did.

Socialize with the author:

Adam Silvera:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

Book Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen BaldwinA School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
Series: Stranje House #1
Published by Tor Teen on May 19, 2015
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
1 Stars
It’s 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England’s dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society’s constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, Headmistress Emma Stranje, the original unusual girl, has plans for the young ladies—plans that entangle the girls in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war.

After accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire while performing a scientific experiment, Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam is sent to Stranje House. But Georgie has no intention of being turned into a simpering, pudding-headed, marriageable miss. She plans to escape as soon as possible—until she meets Lord Sebastian Wyatt. Thrust together in a desperate mission to invent a new invisible ink for the English war effort, Georgie and Sebastian must find a way to work together without losing their heads—or their hearts...

Book Review:

I was super excited for A SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS. At Stranje House, unmarriageable girls are supposedly reformed. But in reality, their unusual qualities and abilities are further developed. Sent to Stranje House after she sets her father’s stables on fire while trying to create invisible ink, Georgiana wants to escape … until she meets Sebastian Wyatt and learns that Miss Stranje wants her to create that ink.

The summary strongly hints at romance, but I didn’t think it would take over the whole book. The “relationship” that springs up between Georgiana and Sebastian caused me to dislike A SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS. Georgiana’s supposed to be smart, but she falls in love with Sebastian after about two seconds of looking at him. Or that’s what it felt like. I think they spent less than a week together, but they were falling in love by the middle of the book. I can’t stand that type of undeveloped relationship, and it influenced how I felt about the book.

Aside from the insta-love romance, I didn’t get Georgiana. Again, she’s supposed to be smart, but where does this come from? Why is she the only one who can develop the ultra-important invisible ink spies need in the war effort? Where do her special skills come from? We’re not told of her successes, just her failures: setting the stables on fire, jumping out a window and hurting her arm, etc. And when Georgiana works on that ink, she nearly kills Sebastian and then makes another mistake because they’re swooning over each other. And Stranje House itself? It sounds like an interesting place, but Georgiana doesn’t partake in very many lessons because she’s busy with Sebastian.

Ultimately, A SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS just wasn’t what I expected it to be. Instead of a history-filled, girl-powered jaunt through 1814, it’s an unrealistic romance with a tiny dash of adventure.

Socialize with the author:

Kathleen Baldwin:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Waiting on Wednesday: Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

waiting on wednesday

half a way by joe abercrombieHalf a War (Shattered Sea #3) by Joe Abercrombie
Release Date: July 16, 2015

Words are weapons

Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. She must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge if she is to reclaim her birthright.

Only half a war is fought with swords

The deep-cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head – a man who worships no god but Death.

Sometimes one must fight evil with evil

Some – like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith – are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others – like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver – would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her iron wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness

Yay, July is close! Because I can’t wait to read the last book of Joe Abercrombie’s awesomely epic fantasy series. Each book is from a new character’s POV, so this is a series you don’t need to read in order, which is always a plus. I do recommend reading HALF A KING and HALF THE WORLD because they’re amazing. I recommend this series if you like gritty fantasy.

Socialize with the author:

Joe Abercrombie:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.

– leeanna

Book Review: Moseh’s Staff by A.W. Exley

Book Review: Moseh’s Staff by A.W. ExleyMoseh's Staff by A.W. Exley
Series: Artifact Hunters #4
Published by Curiosity Quills Press on May 18, 2015
Genres: Adult, Adventure, Fantasy, Romance, Steampunk
Pages: 295
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour, Publisher
Goodreads
4 Stars
All things must come to an end…

London is in the frozen grip of an unnatural winter and Queen Victoria wants answers. Cara and Nate know who – the Curator. The queen's artifact hunters just don't know what is responsible. Cara is on the trail of an ancient and powerful artifact capable of freezing a city and stirring demons. First she must confront her past and her father's history. Only in learning why her father became a disciple of the Curator can she hope to learn what the old noble seeks and why he is so fascinated by her.

Then tragedy strikes and the bond forged by Nefertiti's Heart is severed. Nate without Cara succumbs to his darkness and he lashes out at those he holds responsible for her loss. Meanwhile, in the shadows, Inspector Fraser waits for his opportunity to pull down the man known as the villainous viscount.

With London entombed in ice and all hope lost, could this be the end…

moseh's staff blog tour

Publisher Curiosity Quills is having a month long review tour to celebrate their May releases. You can check out all the stops. I’m reviewing MOSEH’S STAFF, the last book in A.W. Exley’s Artifact Hunters series. I’ve reviewed all the books in the series: NEFERTITI’S HEART, HATSHEPSUT’S COLLAR, and NERO’S FIDDLE.

Book Review:

MOSEH’S STAFF is the fourth book in A.W. Exley’s Artifact Hunters series. In the past, I’ve described the series as quirky and unique. A good blend of historical fiction, fantasy, romance, adventure, mythology, and steampunk. These descriptions hold true with MOSEH’S STAFF, which is sadly the last book in the series. I’m sad to see the end of Cara and Nate, but I do like how the author finished everything.

As Queen Victoria’s artifact hunters, Nate and Cara must figure out what artifact is causing endless winter and misery in London. It’s April, but the Thames is frozen. London is the only area affected, and Victoria’s not very happy about it. Cara and Nate have a good idea of who is behind events — the Curator — but how to stop him is a different question. How do you stop a man who bleeds water instead of blood?

The hunt becomes even more personal when the Curator reveals his intentions to take Cara as his own, severing the bond of Nefertiti’s Heart that connects her and Nate. I love Cara and Nate together, but it was great to see Nate on his own as well. The author showed more of Nate’s darker side, the no holds barred man he was before Cara’s presence in his life. Nate’s the guy I’d want on my side if someone took me, because he stops at nothing to rescue Cara.

There’s a lot of revelations in MOSEH’S STAFF, tying up loose ends from previous books in the series, such as explaining why Cara and Nate fit so perfectly together, or bringing back the dragon from HATSHEPSUT’S COLLAR. Many of Cara and Nate’s friends show up in MOSEH’S STAFF (minus Loki, sadface), rallying around Nate to help find Cara. And Cara, kick butt woman that she is, isn’t content to sit back and be rescued. She confronts her own demons in MOSEH’S STAFF while trying to figure out which artifact powers the Curator.

All in all, MOSEH’S STAFF is a satisfying conclusion to the Artifact Hunters series, full of what I loved about the previous books: Cara and Nate, twists on mythology, humor in dark moments, and lots of action.

About the author:

author a.w. exley
Books and writing have always been an enormous part of Anita’s life.

She survived school by hiding out in the library, with several thousand fictional characters for company. At university, she overcame the boredom of studying accountancy by squeezing in Egyptology papers and learning to read hieroglyphics.

Today, Anita writes steampunk novels with a sexy edge and an Egyptian twist. She lives in rural New Zealand surrounded by an assortment of weird and wonderful equines, felines, canine and homicidal chickens.
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Buy links: Amazon US | Amazon UK

– leeanna

Book Review: The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Book Review: The Witch Hunter by Virginia BoeckerThe Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker
Series: The Witch Hunter #1
Published by Brown Books for Young Readers on June 2, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
The magic and suspense of Graceling meet the political intrigue and unrest of Game of Thrones in this riveting fantasy debut.

Your greatest enemy isn't what you fight, but what you fear.

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king's best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she's accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that's been laid upon him.

But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth's witch hunting past--if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she's thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too-handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

Virginia Boecker weaves a riveting tale of magic, betrayal, and sacrifice in this unforgettable fantasy debut.

Book Review:

THE WITCH HUNTER is described as “The magic and suspense of GRACELING meet the political intrigue and unrest of GAME OF THRONES in this riveting fantasy debut.”

Uhm, no. It’s not.

First, let me say I’m really tired of publishers describing books as “X meets Y.” I understand why they do it, but when the book is neither, it’s incredibly misleading. And believe me, most of the time those comparisons are untrue.

So what is THE WITCH HUNTER? It’s an average YA fantasy. There were times it was good and times I wondered why I wasn’t in love with it like everyone else seemed to be. The writing is decent and the book is readable. But the plot is predictable and there’s not a lot of memorable stuff.

Elizabeth is a witch hunter, one of the best, but lately she’s been distracted and has made mistakes. When she’s discovered with herbs in her pocket, she’s sentenced to death, just like all the witches she’s captured. And then when she’s rescued by Anglia’s most wanted wizard, she starts to question everything she’s been told.

THE WITCH HUNTER has a historical setting, but it’s not really developed. Anglia is basically 16th century England with witches. Elizabeth is sexually abused by the king, but her feelings on this are never explored; it’s just a thing to get her into trouble. I would’ve expected some reaction, especially when she crushes on John, the cute wizard healer. The plus about their romance is the author doesn’t go the insta-love route, but I’m not sure why John liked Elizabeth.

For me, THE WITCH HUNTER is one of those books I enjoyed while reading and that’s it. If I thought more about it, I’d probably rate it lower, so I’ll stop here. It’s not a book that’ll stick with me, but that’s okay.

Socialize with the author:

Virginia Boecker:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos

Book Review: Material Girls by Elaine DimopoulosMaterial Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 5, 2015
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
Goodreads
4 Stars
In Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde’s world, teens are the gatekeepers of culture. A top fashion label employs sixteen-year-old Marla to dictate hot new clothing trends, while Ivy, a teen pop star, popularizes the garments that Marla approves. Both girls are pawns in a calculated but seductive system of corporate control, and both begin to question their world’s aggressive levels of consumption. Will their new “eco-chic” trend subversively resist and overturn the industry that controls every part of their lives?

Smart, provocative, and entertaining, this thrilling page-turner for teens questions the cult like mentality of fame and fashion. Are you in or are you out?

Book Review:

MATERIAL GIRLS is one of those books that worms itself into your brain, until you start to think, “Hmm, this really could happen.”

In this future world, teens rule. Creative and talented thirteen year olds are Tapped by big businesses, and they spend the next few years creating things, from dresses to video games, for other teens to buy. Trendiness is incredibly important; there are even trendchecker guns that scan an item to see if it’s still in or if it’s out.

Marla is one of those Tapped teens; she’s a judge at Torro-LeBlanc, one of the top five fashion houses. She gets to decide what’s in or out. Ivy, a popstar, helps sell each new trend, since everything she wears is photographed and promoted.

At the start of MATERIAL GIRLS, Marla’s at the peak of her career, but she’s quickly demoted to the very bottom after she disagrees with the people in power. Ivy must maintain her Wilde girl image with nightly clubbing, public makeout sessions with her boyfriend, and even disorderly-conduct arrests arranged by her PR people.

MATERIAL GIRLS is told from both of their perspectives, showing two sides of the system. And it’s quite an interesting system, hinting at how teens with disposable income drive the world. People who don’t get Tapped go onto hold normal jobs and get more schooling, but they’re looked down upon by their creative peers.

I do think the author needed to do a bit more explaining of all these concepts, since I was a lost at the beginning of the book, and even into the middle. Eventually some of them were explained and I pieced the rest together. It’s just my preference to have a solid explanation, especially in such a fascinating world.

The beginning of MATERIAL GIRLS is a little slow, leading into Marla and Ivy questioning their roles in the system. Once they meet, things really get going. They start a new trend, “eco-chic,” which eventually leads to a revolution. Aside from that, the author also uses eco-chic to critique the fashion industry, bringing up the amount of clothing thrown out each year — up to seventy pounds per person. I liked how the author incorporated such information, slyly poking at commercialism and trends and that sort of thing. It really made me think.

MATERIAL GIRLS is a standalone, which is always refreshing in young adult fiction. The book wraps everything up neatly, but leaves the reader with plenty to think about regarding fashion, commercialism, and fame.

Socialize with the author:

Elaine Dimopoulos:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

Book Review: Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. JensenHidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen
Series: The Malediction Trilogy #2
Published by Angry Robot on June 2, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 464
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
Sometimes, one must accomplish the impossible.

Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…

Book Review:

Last year, I loved STOLEN SONGBIRD, the first book in Danielle L. Jensen’s amazing young adult fantasy series, the Malediction Trilogy. I loved every bit of STOLEN SONGBIRD, so of course I couldn’t wait for the sequel.

HIDDEN HUNTRESS is just as good, if not better, than STOLEN SONGBIRD. Let me tell you, this book has no hint of Middle Book Syndrome, which usually plagues trilogies. So much important stuff happens that I couldn’t even begin to summarize it, and I’m not going to try. Because HIDDEN HUNTRESS is too good to spoil!

I think my favorite thing about HIDDEN HUNTRESS is the way Danielle ended every chapter. I swear she’s an expert at ending chapters with cliffhangers. I’d get caught up in Cécile’s narration and think “I have to know what happens next” at the end of her chapter. I’d be tempted to skip ahead, but then it was Tristan’s turn, and I’d get sucked into his story. This happened over and over again, and I loved that.

Much of Cécile’s focus is on finding Anushka, the witch who cursed the trolls. I enjoyed watching Cécile try to puzzle through clues, and while I’m not going to spoil things, I like how that storyline played out. In Trollus, Tristan has to sort out his father’s true intentions and desires, which is quite difficult, since trolls never say what they mean. In the first book, we mostly saw Trollus through Cécile’s’s eyes. In HIDDEN HUNTRESS, we see it through Tristan’s, which I greatly enjoyed.

HIDDEN HUNTRESS is one of those books that’s worth the wait!

Let’s talk about it:

Be sure to check out the amazing guest post Danielle wrote for me, a letter from Anaïs to the reader! I also interviewed Danielle last year.

Socialize with the author:

Danielle L. Jensen:
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads

– leeanna

Guest Post: Danielle L. Jensen & Hidden Huntress

danielle l. jensen guest post

hidden huntress by danielle l. jensenLast year, I loved STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle L. Jensen. It was even one of my favorite books of 2014. So you can bet I was eagerly anticipating this year’s sequel, HIDDEN HUNTRESS. I emailed the publisher, Angry Robot, as soon as I knew there was a blog tour and practically begged to be on it :D

I interviewed Danielle last year, and this year I have an amazing guest post! I gave Danielle a few ideas, and to my great joy, she wrote a letter the readers from Anaïs! This letter is epic, you guys. I had a troll-sized grin while reading it.

Danielle has done a few posts already for HIDDEN HUNTRESS, and I recommend you check them out on Angry Robot’s site. HIDDEN HUNTRESS comes out June 2, 2015, and my review will be up next week is posted here. It’s worth the wait, guys :D


A letter from Anaïs, written as she watches over the injured Cécile.

Dearest Readers,

I confess, I was somewhat uncertain of how to address this letter. I am not Tristan or Marc, and I’m certainly not the twins, so if you are reading this believing to find some human-loving spark buried deep within my heart, please set aside those foolish hopes. You are human and I am a troll, and as such, I am superior to you in the way a dragon is a sparrow. You are not dear to me.

I am smiling while I reread my words, as I can see them undoing all the goodwill I’ve built with you over this brief chapter of my life where you were present. As though those few months and occasional meetings were enough for you to presume to know me. To know my story.

So why address your letter dearest, you ask? Why not to the creatures I look down upon or to those I grudgingly tolerate? Why write to us at all? The answer is this: while you are not dear to me, the cause you all profess to champion is more precious to me than my own life.

Surprised, aren’t you? How many of you believed that my every action was driven by my affection for Tristan? Please. Did you never stop to think that half the reason I loved him was because we fought for the same thing, if for different reasons? Tristan fights for the half-bloods and humans because he believes you are our equals. I fight for you because I believe it is the duty of the strong to protect those who are weak. And you have my father to thank for that.

My family is full of black hearts and wicked souls, selfish and grasping, each generation a product of the prior’s cruelty and manipulation. I blame my father because we were subject to his harsh hand, but he was the victim of my grandmother and she my great-grandfather. The instigator of our family’s ways lived and died a thousand years ago, but, oh, how her legacy lives on. And her goal remains the same: to take the crown.

I, like all those before me, was born a tool to use in our quest to achieve that goal. For centuries we cultivated power, drawing in those who cared not for Montigny rule, using them and everything else at our disposal in our game of guerre with the ruling family. We bred for magic, the holder of the Angoulême title never bonding lest a chosen mate fail to deliver progeny of the appropriate caliber of power. My father was a failure in my grandmother’s eyes, but despite disposing of my grandfather and two subsequent husbands, she was never able to deliver a replacement. She never lets my father forget that he holds the title only because there was no one better. Never lets him forget how weak he is. How even if he managed to win the crown, that he hasn’t the mettle to wear it himself.

And how she despaired when my sweet sister was born, for Pénélope had less power than some of the half-bloods who served us, her gifts of kindness, grace, and artistic talent worthless in my grandmother’s eyes. She believed the might of our family was doomed – that we were destined to descend into the teeming pool of lesser trolls, our fight for the crown a distant memory.

But then my power manifested. I’ll not bore you with false humility: my magic changed everything, for I had a spark of power outshone only by the Montigny prince himself. But my father, ever the clever creature, knew it wasn’t enough to wrest the crown from the Montignys by force. His had a much better plan than that. He spun pretty words, saying that our world was too small for so great an enmity as was between our two families; that ours was a common enemy best defeated with a united front. A thousand truths to hide the lie, and a daughter with enough power to be queen sent to befriend the son of his enemy. To be his bait.

But there was a problem with his plan: Pénélope hadn’t just been born weak in magic, she’d been born with a sickness that caused her to bleed ceaselessly from even the smallest of injuries. And though my flesh was not similarly afflicted, the sickness was in my blood, waiting to rear its ugly head in any child born of my body. It was our greatest secret, and my father made us both swear never to reveal it to anyone. To me he whispered simply that Pénélope’s life was destined to be a short one, and that it would be cruel to reveal her affliction. What he whispered to my sister was far worse. He told her she was a scourge on our family name. That she was weak and worthless. That if her secret got out, it wouldn’t ruin just her life, it would ruin mine as well. That it would ruin my chance to be queen. He crushed her spirit and turned her into a coward, rendering her afraid to take a step too fast lest she fall. He would have killed her and removed all chance of our secret being discovered, but our mother threatened to reveal everything to the King if any harm came to her daughter.

My loyalty my father did not doubt, because he believed we wanted the same thing. He believed that I, like him, would do anything – sacrifice anyone – to gain the throne. Not once did he consider that his treatment of Pénélope would turn me against him and into the camp of his enemy. Tristan and Marc brought the twins and me into the fold of their revolution early, but not Pénélope. She could not protect herself from my father, and that made telling her anything a risk we couldn’t afford to take. She’d be safer, we all decided, if we kept her in the dark. So we did. And I, who had been sent to infiltrate the Montignys, was now a spy in my own household. A many-leveled game of guerre that kept me awake at night for fear of being discovered.

When my father told me that he and the King had settled on the terms of the betrothal between Tristan and me, it felt like a dream, for Tristan had held my heart since we were children. But it also seemed like a nightmare, because I knew Tristan would eventually discover Pénélope’s secret and know that I’d withheld the truth from him for my family’s gain. I did not think our friendship would survive such deceit, and I was afraid of what it would be like to be bonded to someone who didn’t trust me. Of what it would do to my sanity if I loved him, but only ever felt his hate. So I said nothing – about my feelings or the betrothal – because in my heart, I knew they would amount to nothing good.

Less than a year after the King and my father settled the terms of our betrothal, which unfortunately included our bringing Roland into our household, my mother went missing on a sluag hunt in the labyrinth. A tragic accident, they said. But I knew the truth: the stakes were too high, my mother too great a risk. And I knew that my sister was next. What I didn’t know was how I could protect her. Any appeals to Tristan or the King to harbor her would be met with questions I could not easily answer and consequences that my selfish heart was unwilling to accept. Instead, I counted down the days until Tristan and I would be old enough to be wed, promising myself that once we were bonded, it wouldn’t matter if my family’s secret got out. That he’d understand and forgive my deception. That once I was a princess, I’d be able to protect my sister. That once I was queen, Tristan and I would reinvent our world and turn Trollus into a place where the weak need not live in fear of those in power.

Which made it all the more painfully ironic that it was Tristan who put an end to my plan. A playful duel at a party. The broken tip of a sword. What were the odds that the one person watching us who couldn’t heal a pinprick without toil was the one nicked by the toxic metal? There was blood everywhere, and the King looked at Pénélope and then at me, and I knew it was over. That I had lost everything. And above all, I knew my father would make my beloved sister pay.

It did not take long. I walked in on him smothering her in the parlor of our home while my grandmother sat idly in the next room. It was nothing to stop him – my power had surpassed his years prior – and for a brief moment, I considered killing him. In one fell swoop saving my sister, killing the enemy of my friend and leader, and ridding Trollus of one of its worst. But he was and is my father, and some small amount of foolish loyalty to blood stayed my hand. Except leaving things as they were would only have left my sister in danger. Threatening him would do little good. Revenge might be sweet, but it does not bring back the dead, and it would destroy his faith in my loyalty to our family, rendering me ineffective as a spy – a role that was so much more important now that he and his followers were bent on pulling Tristan from his position as heir and putting Roland in his place. So I did the only thing I could do – I made her useful. I told him that Marc was the only one who knew all of Tristan’s secrets, and there wasn’t a soul in Trollus who didn’t know Marc was in love with my sister. But I was the only one who knew she was in love with him.

I think in that moment she hated me. And that I deserved it. But it was the only way I could think to save her, avoid killing my father, and retain my ability to spy on his plans. Little did I know that my actions would drive her harder towards the choice that eventually killed her. Maybe she did it purely for love – it’s certainly a sweet thought. But I think it was because she believed there was no place in Trollus for someone like her – that her murder was inevitable. So she chose to spend the last few months of her life happy and to die on her own terms. And I cannot help but wonder if she’d been privy to our plans, if she’d had hope for a future where she did not need to live in fear, that she’d have chosen differently. That she’d still be alive today.

Much time has passed, but there are days where I feel little has changed. That all our efforts have been for naught. And perhaps they have been, for even as I write this, Cécile lies before me on her deathbed. Roland may have struck the blow, but she is the victim of our failure to protect her. A victim of our failure to make Trollus a place where she wouldn’t need protection. There is no love lost between the two of us, but despite being such a fragile creature, she is brave. It is one thing to be brave when one is the dragon, quite another to be brave when one is the sparrow, and I cannot help but respect that.

If she dies, I do not think Tristan will survive it. And thought of losing him makes me want to rend myself to pieces. But more than that, if she dies, the King wins. My father wins. Every troll in this cursed city who believes power gives them a right to hurt those who are weak wins. It’s because I refuse to accept defeat that I’ll do what it takes to help Tristan free Cécile from Trollus. Or I’ll die trying.

Anaïs


About the author:

author danielle l. jensenDanielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads

– leeanna

Book Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle Clayton

Book Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra & Dhonielle ClaytonTiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton, Sona Charaipotra
Series: Tiny Pretty Things #1
Published by HarperTeen on May 26, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Diversity, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Book Review:

When books are pitched as X meets Y, the comparisons rarely work for me. But “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars” is SPOT ON for TINY PRETTY THINGS. If you like drama and/or ballet books, this is one for you.

Here’s how much I loved TINY PRETTY THINGS: I read the book twice in a month. Yeah. I reread a lot, but I just couldn’t leave Gigi, Bette, and June behind. I need more of them, stat!

TINY PRETTY THINGS is written from the perspectives of three very different characters at the American Ballet Company school. Gigi is the school’s new student and star, an African American transplant from California. Bette is the rich legacy, the former star student who will do anything to regain her top spot. June is half Korean, a perfectionist who needs to land a lead role or her mother will pull her out.

I appreciated the diverse characters — very rarely have I seen ballet books feature anything other than white main characters. And there’s a reason for that, because diverse dancers do have a more difficult time in the ballet world. But the authors don’t just toss in ethnicities and leave it at that; they show how other students look at Gigi and June, and show the struggles June has as a “halfie.”

There is SO MUCH DRAMA in this book, I ate it with a spoon and loved every second of it. Seriously, I had no idea what was going to happen next, or who was going to attack who. Aside from all the drama and the characters trying to one up each other, there’s plenty of dancing — yay!

And the ending? Oh man. I didn’t see it coming at all. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, but it did leave me desperately craving the next book.

In case you can’t tell, I loved TINY PRETTY THINGS, and highly recommend it. I don’t usually gush for contemporary books, but this one was perfect for me.

Socialize with the authors:
Sona Charaipotra:
Website
Twitter

Dhonielle Clayton:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna